Critics’ Picks

Nicole Miller, The Borrowers, 2014, digital video, color, sound, 16 minutes 52 seconds.

Nicole Miller, The Borrowers, 2014, digital video, color, sound, 16 minutes 52 seconds.

New York

“Density Betrays Us”

The Hole
86 Walker Street
June 29–August 14, 2021

Gnarled somatic terra and chimeric aberrations fill “Density Betrays Us,” this deeply felt group exhibition. Didier Williams’s painting Koupe Tet, Boule Kay, 2021, features a weightless being ablaze with fluorescent color, while Yasue Maetake’s sculptural fusions of barnacle, bone, metal, and crystal are displayed as if they were interspecies fossils. Elsewhere, the phantoms are less speculative, though just as menacing: In Nicole Miller’s video The Borrowers, 2014, a man describes how he lost his left arm during a violent confrontation. In this harrowing scene, we see parts of his other, undamaged arm and hand reflected in a mirror, perfectly positioned to stand in for the absent limb.

Far from a hodgepodge of loosely assembled variants of figurative work or an easy collection of superficial digital avatars, this presentation takes a deep dive into the many dimensions of the flesh in 2021. Corporeal investigations range from perfectly slick acrylic paintings such as Yitian Sun’s Ken, 2021, a portrait of Barbie’s companion as a severed head, to Casja Von Zeipel’s sculpture of a delightfully tricked-out, sometimes gooey humanoid in Friends of Grapefruit, 2020. Throughout the show, no surface, skin, or system goes untroubled. In Joiri Minaya’s pigment print Emergence I, 2021, a ghostly, semicamouflaged figure is engulfed by plant patterns, while Michael Jones McKean’s sculptural diptych 15 Families, 2015, calls to mind some anthropological plaque commemorating pioneering humans and their naive beliefs in tools, myths, and the invisible. 

“A specter is always a revenant. One cannot control its comings and goings because it begins by coming back,” writes Jacques Derrida in Specters of Marx (1993). Traversing the halls of the gallery, I could occasionally feel the fake-concrete flooring installed for the show buckling and bubbling underneath my feet. This made me think about hauntings, and about the fact that every work here had already been betrayed by some form of reality, be it phenomenological, political, or virtual, and how that divestment empowers these subjects to keep returning to counteract easy visions of the present.